Can Baba transform the party into a national force?

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party) is an increasing presence among the opposition parties, but its foundation is not strong enough. Whether Ishin no Kai can transform itself into a national political force will be a test of the new party leader’s skills.

Nobuyuki Baba has been elected as the head of the party in its leadership race. His long record of leadership as the party’s secretary general and cochairman may have been highly regarded. Baba said he aims for Ishin no Kai to become the No. 1 opposition party in the next national election.

It was the first leadership election since the party’s establishment in 2012 and followed the resignation of Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui, who had served as Ishin no Kai’s leader for more than 6½ years.

Based in Osaka, Ishin no Kai has been led by people with strong personalities, such as its first chief, Toru Hashimoto, and Matsui. It will be interesting to see how Baba will manage the party, taking advantage of the fact that he was voted into the position.

The public’s expectations for Ishin no Kai are rising. In a nationwide survey jointly conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun and Waseda University, it was selected as the opposition party with the most potential to compete with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the future.

In the House of Councillors election, Ishin no Kai won 12 of the seats up for grabs, doubling its pre-election total in July. In the proportional representation race, it won more seats than the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the leading opposition party.

Ishin no Kai may have been successful in appealing to the public with its policy of “self-sacrificing reforms,” including calls for reductions in the number of Diet members and cuts in their remuneration.

However, some of the party’s policies, such as cutting the consumption tax rate and making education completely free of charge, are strongly populist.

If it aims to become a governing party, Ishin no Kai needs to devise more realistic, persuasive proposals for such matters as how it intends to manage overall economic affairs and a sustainable social security system.

The biggest challenge is to expand its support base nationwide. Of the about 19,000 rank-and-file party members eligible to vote in the leadership election, about 60% are residents of Osaka Prefecture. Fewer than 1,000 live in Tokyo.

Ishin no Kai must continue its efforts in this regard, such as building a nationwide support organization network, and steadily convey its policies.

Is the party’s leadership election system appropriate in its current form, treating the votes of Diet members and of rank-and-file party members as one vote each? Equating the votes of elected Diet members with those of rank-and-file party members is not in keeping with the principle of the parliamentary cabinet system, in which the national government is run by Diet members.

The CDPJ also shuffled its executive lineup, appointing former Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada as secretary general and former Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Akira Nagatsuma as chairperson of the Policy Research Committee under the leadership of President Kenta Izumi.

The party seems to be stuck in the doldrums and has been forced to rely on veterans who held key positions when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power. Will the CDPJ be able to find a way out of this “throwback” system?

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 28, 2022)